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The strange case of Darwin Nunez – Liverpool paid for Haaland and got De Bruyne

As the only team to have disrupted Manchester City’s reign of dominance under Pep Guardiola, Liverpool felt obliged to respond to Erling Braut Haaland’s arrival at the Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2022.

Beating a host of Europe’s top clubs to the signature of Darwin Nunez was supposed to usher in a brand-new rivalry in the Premier League and perhaps European football.

Nunez went from strength to strength in his last season at the Estadio da Luz, racking up a jaw-dropping 34 goals in 41 appearances en route to being named the Primeira Liga Player of the Year.

It didn’t take long before his future became one of the major talking points in the elite society as Liverpool opened up the chequebook to pour £64 million into Benfica’s bank account. 

However, while Haaland enjoyed a record-breaking first season in the Premier League, the Reds marquee signing soon became a scapegoat for his erratic finishing. 

The new Man City talisman was shattering records at will as Guardiola’s side conquered a historic treble thanks to the Norwegian’s unparalleled scoring prowess. 

In the meantime, Nunez’s profligacy turned him into a subject of mockery, with Liverpool missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time since Jurgen Klopp’s maiden season in charge.

But instead of turning his back on his underperforming forward, the German manager has decided to take a leap of faith and entrust the 24-year-old with a prominent role in 2023/24.

Though Nunez continues to waste sitters – such as his inexplicable miss at Kenilworth Road that almost saw Liverpool lose to newcomers Luton Town – he has elevated his all-round game to a new level. 

His blossoming understanding with Mohamed Salah has forged the most prolific attacking partnership in the Premier League this season, even Guardiola can be jealous of. 

Nunez becomes Salah’s De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne’s eight assists for Haaland are the most provided for one player in the Premier League since the start of last season. The duo’s special connection was the backbone of Man City’s epic success.

But the Belgian’s long-term injury has put their formidable partnership on hold, switching the spotlight elsewhere. Guess who embraced it?

Each of Nunez’s nine assists in the Liverpool jersey has been for Salah, including seven in the Premier League, four of which have come this season.

Of the Egyptian’s ten top-flight goals in 2023/24, 40% have come courtesy of the Uruguay international’s lay-offs.

Nunez was unfortunate to have seen two of his goals against Brentford disallowed for offside, but he led the line like an expert. His defence-splitting pass for Salah helped to open the scoring at Anfield and set the tone for a scintillating 3-0 victory. 

Perhaps aware of his shortcomings in front of goal, Nunez was unselfish in the Merseyside derby in October, setting up his attacking colleague on a silver platter, even though he had a chance to score.

For argument’s sake, the misfiring forward has accumulated as many Premier League assists this season as Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Trent Alexander-Arnold combined. 

Klopp can forgive Nunez for squandering chances as long as he keeps feeding Salah. 

Liverpool’s title credentials face the sternest test yet as they head to the Etihad to face Man City after the international break in a top-table six-pointer. 

That will be a perfect opportunity for Klopp’s lethal tandem to show what they’re made of. 

Let’s not forget that Nunez scored on his competitive debut for the Reds against none other than Man City, netting in stoppages to seal a 3-1 win in last season’s Community Shield. 

Nunez setting up Salah in a 3-2 defeat in the 2022/23 League Cup third-round defeat in Manchester perhaps even better fits the narrative. 

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